Which is Better?

I needed a few more long-run mic cables for a session the other day, so I dropped by my local large chain music store.  I poked around the cable section, but only found upper end cables that would run me $60 a piece or more.  A salesperson spots me and asks if I need any help.

Me: “Say, do you have anything 50 feet long that’s less expensive?  Maybe a store brand or something?”

Salesperson: “For longer lengths you don’t want to buy lower end cables.  For shorter lengths they are ok, but the cheaper, longer length cables are especially susceptible to degradation.”

Aside from the always irritating suggestion that I don’t want what I just asked for, the salesperson makes a pretty good case.*  What’s an audio engineer on a budget to do?

Whether we’re starting your own shop or just maintaining a hobby, we’re consistently faced with how to spend our modest gear budget.  Do we buy the cheap stuff (the low-end 50′ cable) or buy the higher-end stuff but with less features (a better cable that’s 20′)?

The problem is matter of perspective.  Go ahead and pick the cable that will give you the least amount of degradation . . . just be sure your definition of ‘degradation’ is large enough.

The cheap 50′ cable will introduce a little noise or smear the frequency response.  I’d call that degradation.  A 25′ cable at the same price will introduce less noise, less smear, but it also won’t reach all the way to my bedroom, where it needs to be to get a decent amount of isolation . . . which can cause a lot of problems during mixing and post processing.  I’d call that degradation, too.

Its easy to let the promise of perfection lure you away from the perfectly usable and economical  solution or workaround you were headed for.  Don’t let it.

*Assuming they are right about longer runs of cheaper cable degrading a signal, which they are . . . sort of.  A post on this in the near future.

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